How Disney Princesses Became Movie Royalty
The Disney Princesses are more like queens of the movie world (don't tell Maleficent) but it wasn't always that way. Even though the very first feature from Walt Disney Animation, SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DRAWFS, introduced the first Disney Princess, she did not have company for a long time. The scene in RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET, in which Sarah Silverman's character Vanellope meets 14 princesses, is the result of nearly a century of moviemaking and fan enthusiasm.
Even if you can name all the Disney Princesses (hint: officially, there are twelve) you might not know the history of their ascent to pop-culture stardom. Here's how the Disney Princesses became movie royalty.
When Walt Disney released SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS in 1937, the movie was seen as anything other than an obvious hit. No one had made a feature-length hand-drawn animated movie, and no one expected a film that lived up to the standards of quality that Disney promised. SNOW WHITE defied all expectations and became a monster hit, establishing Walt Disney as one of the major producers in Hollywood. The movie's gentle and enigmatic heroine enraptured audiences, who returned to the movie time and again as it was re-released to theatres many times before finally arriving on home video in the 1990s.
Only one movie featuring a new Disney Princess was released, 1950's CINDERELLA, between the debut of SNOW WHITE in 1937 and the opening of Disneyland in 1955. The third princess arrived a few years later when SLEEPING BEAUTY was released in 1959. For decades after the opening of Disneyland, however, the theme park, along with the other Disney parks that came later, helped build the image of the Princesses as friendly, approachable characters. Even in a year when Walt Disney Animation did not release a new movie, fans grew to know and love the princesses a bit more as they flocked to the parks.
The Little Mermaid
The three original Princesses were on their own for decades as the studio turned to animals and fantasy stories for movie material. Then, in 1989, everything changed. THE LITTLE MERMAID introduced the dynamic, rebellious and adventurous Ariel, who expressed her longing and ideas through songs with witty, wry lyrics. The movie was a hit on the scale of SNOW WHITE, and it launched a Disney animation revival even as it established Ariel as the fourth Princess and set the stage for many more new Disney heroines in the 1990s.
THE LITTLE MERMAID led to BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, which brought Belle into the fold — and then Disney spent the 1990s creating one iconic Princess after another. Jasmine, Pocahontas, and Mulan all hit the big screen. Eventually, Andy Mooney, an exec new to Disney noticed a lot of girls dressed as princesses while attending a Disney on Ice show. Mooney pushed for the development of official Disney Princess costumes and products, which helped turn the characters into a more powerful pop-culture force.
Believe it or not, while Anna and Elsa show up in the Princess scene of RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET, they're not officially part of the Princess crew. But FROZEN is one of the most popular movies Disney has ever released, so it's only a matter of time. Merida from BRAVE — a Pixar movie, rather than a Disney Animation release — made it into the Princess group, after all. More to the point, the true definition of what turns a Disney character into royalty is in the hands of fans, and we know they would consider Anna and Elsa to be true princesses.
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All images courtesy of Walt Disney Animation.